The Associated Press and the Associated Press Managing Editors association announced Thursday a joint reporting project to expand statehouse coverage to explore how cutbacks in state budgets are affecting services and people.
The two organizations plan to leverage their resources to increase coverage beyond what they could do on their own, and work with reporters at newspapers that belong to the 164-year-old news cooperative.
The reporting project will explore issues including where residents get the best deals for their tax dollars and whether there should be fundamental changes in the role of state and local government.
AP's multimedia department plans to create an interactive for news websites that will include real-time information about state budgets. The project will also look at comparing state budgets and finances.
"We think by early next year, there are going to be very large budget gaps in state government," AP's Senior Managing Editor Mike Oreskes told news executives Thursday.
The project was announced during the APME annual conference, held at the Poynter Institute, a media training center in St. Petersburg.
The three-day conference, attended by more than 100 newspaper executives from around the nation, focused on the future of the news industry and the challenges it faces in a digital, Internet-fueled world. Over the past several years, the industry has seen reductions in advertising, circulation and staff.
APME, an association of senior editors at newspapers that are served by the AP in the U.S. and by The Canadian Press in Canada, works closely with the AP to strive for journalism excellence. APME also supports training and development of editors and promotes programs in online credibility and diversity.
The crisis in state budgets will be a special project of the AP and APME in 2011, Oreskes said.
"APME will reach out to members on how to participate," said Bob Heisse, executive editor of the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pa. "This is national reporting you can localize."
Neil Brown, editor of the St. Petersburg Times, said the project "makes good news sense."
"The state budget deficits will, in fact, total up to be a major national story, and certainly it was already a big story this election in Florida," Brown said. "This will give us a good feel on how it's going around the country."
The statehouse news project is expected to begin in early 2011, when some state legislatures convene their sessions.
Also during the conference, AP CEO Tom Curley discussed the importance of touch-screen tablet computers to the future of the news industry.
"By 2012, there will be 250 million touch-screen devices," Curley said during a panel on Wednesday. "It clearly is going beyond websites, it's clearly going to a touch-screen world and we need to prepare for that day of reckoning."
Curley made it clear the rise of mobile devices gives the news industry new opportunities to make money as it tries to reverse several years of decline brought on by its inability to capitalize on the Internet.
Curley also discussed the AP's recent announcement that it will create a digital-rights clearinghouse. The effort should help news organizations protect their content and generate more revenue as technology hatches new channels for distributing the news they produce.
Curley said the response to the clearinghouse "has truly been beyond any expectations. There was a feeling that the industry has to do something. I think we have tapped that vein."
In creating the clearinghouse, the AP is drawing upon research that began in 2007 to establish an enforcement and payment system loosely modeled after the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. ASCAP collects royalties and distributes them to more than 390,000 songwriters and others involved in the creation of music.
The news clearinghouse would try to negotiate licensing deals for stories, photos and video produced by participating news organizations, including the AP. News organizations would still produce and own content made available to the clearinghouse. Any payments would go to them, after subtracting administrative fees expected to be 20 percent at first.
The group also elected four incumbents and four new members to the APME governing board. Hollis Towns, executive editor and vice president of news for the Asbury (N.J.) Park Press, was chosen to lead the group.
Elected to at-large positions were: Jon Broadbooks, executive editor of The (Ill.) State Journal-Register; J. Todd Foster, executive editor of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press; Teri Hayt, managing editor of the Arizona Daily Star; Carol Hanner, managing editor of the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal; and Alan Miller, managing editor of the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch.
J.B. Bittner, editor of the Stillwater (Okla.) NewsPress and Chris Cobler, editor of the Victoria (Texas) Advocate, were elected to represent small newspapers.
Jack Lail, multimedia editor of the Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel, was elected to represent online news operations.
Reelected to terms on the board were Jon Broadbooks, executive editor of the State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill.; J. Todd Foster, executive editor of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press; Alan D. Miller, managing editor of the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch; and Jack Lail, multimedia editor of the Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel.